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The history of Oxford medical sciences during the 1700s is inevitably dominated by the legacy of Doctor John Radcliffe. Born into a middle class family in 1652, Radcliffe studied, and then practiced, medicine at Oxford, becoming a Doctor of Medicine in 1682. Moving to London, he established a successful practice, and his reputation among the moneyed classes bought him great wealth. He was physician to James II’s daughter Princess Anne (later Queen Anne), and also to William III and Mary II. When he died in 1714, his estate amounted to £140,000, a huge sum at the time. He bequeathed the majority to the University of Oxford, donating money for travelling medical scholarships and a new quadrangle at University College, as well as for a new library for the University (the Radcliffe Camera). The rest of his estate was put into a trust for ‘charitable purposes.’

Radcliffe Infirmary

A view of the Radcliffe Infirmary in the 19th century. Image courtesy of Wellcome Images

Radcliffe’s trustees used his money to establish the Radcliffe Infirmary, which opened as a local hospital in 1770 (they also funded the Radcliffe Observatory, the University’s astronomical observatory from 1773 to 1934). The Infirmary was intended to be a base for student clinical training, which was also supported by the establishment of the Lichfield Clinical Professorship in 1779. This Professorship was the first academic post in the country devoted to the clinical teaching of students on wards, and proved attractive; between 1780 and 1800, the numbers of Oxford medical students doubled, and half became Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians. Over the next two centuries the Radcliffe Infirmary continued to develop links with both students and patients in Oxford, with donations in the early 1800s establishing further facilities such as the Radcliffe Asylum (later the Warneford Hospital). 

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